We had a chance to catch up with five Ohio State assistant coaches as well as with a pair of players on Friday afternoon.
We interviewed cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, running backs coach Stan Drayton, fullbacks/tight ends coach Tim Hinton and wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Plus, we had a chance to meet with fullback Adam Homan and tackle Reid Fragel. (Check out video interview with Homan above.)
We will have notable comments from the defensive coaches later on today or on Saturday. There are some notables from them listed below. This article focuses on comments from the three offensive coaches and Homan from Friday.
Drayton Confident About Two
Drayton, working with the tailbacks, is counting the days until senior Jordan Hall is cleared to return. Hall injured his foot in July and underwent surgery. He told reporters last Sunday he hopes to be back before the Week 2 game against Central Florida.
“To my knowledge and what I hear from the trainers, we’re still on track for that,” Drayton said.
Drayton said that Hall and junior Carlos Hyde have mastered the new offense.
“They have eliminated most of their mistakes and missed assignments,” he said. “Those other guys have a long ways to go.”
Hyde is expected to be the starter for the season opener and still figures to play after Hall returns.
Adam Homan meets with media on Friday
“It’s like night and day,” Drayton said of Hyde’s progress. “I coached the wide receivers last year and I just had a little side vision of the running backs. I thought he was a little lazy as a football player, quite honestly, and I’m sure he would tell you the same thing. The one thing he can improve upon is his approach to the game. But his passion and enthusiasm for the game are through the roof right now.
“He has escalated his value to this football team.”
“That’s a competition,” Drayton said. “I’m comfortable that I have three guys competing for that spot. And as they compete for that spot, I know they are going to get better. I know someone will emerge. I’m looking forward to when someone separates themselves.”
Smith would seem to be next in line if he can put it all together.
“He just needs to continue to learn the offense,” Drayton said. “We still haven’t seen Rod Smith’s full capabilities. He’s still learning. Some guys learn it quick and some guys take a little longer. He is an extremely talented young man. You’re not seeing all of his ability come out because he doesn’t have a firm grasp of what we’re asking for him. He needs to get in that film room and get himself game ready.”
Dunn enrolled early for the spring football and that has given him a leg up in the competition.
“You have Brionte Dunn who has had a good, physical camp,” Drayton said. “With the ball in his hands, he’s pretty good. The other stuff he needs to get honed in on. The protections are something that always takes time to learn.
“Brionte Dunn brings a lot of value. He is an integral part of our special teams. He has the capability of being a big-time back. Is he there yet? Absolutely not. But he is on the right track.”
Ball, being new to the system, is still getting his bearings.
“Warren Ball just got off the boat,” Drayton said. “He is hearing this stuff for the first time. He’s a guy who goes from Point A to Point B as fast as he can go.”
Smith Updates Receiver Spot
There is a lot happening at the receiver position. For starters, senior Jake Stoneburner has moved to receiver from tight end.
“He is making the transition from tight end to wide receiver,” Smith said. “He’s one of the only guys I’ve seen who could do it. He’s very talented. Jake is playing wide receiver now, but he can still do tight end things and fullback things.
“He’s always been an athletic receiving tight end. That kid is naturally gifted in the throw game. He has the body type and ability to do things in the run game. He is a mismatch problem for other teams. It was more of a program move than just a Jake Stoneburner move.”
Stoneburner’s move may also have to do with the relative lack of production from the receiver group.
“There is definitely pressure,” Smith said. “It has been world renowed from the head coach on down to whoever else has talked about it. I think that gives us an opportunity to see who thrives under that pressure and who does not. They have embraced that.
“Every receiver is the same. They want to touch the ball on every play.”
Smith was asked if there is a pecking order at the receiver spot.
“It’s too early to tell that,” he said. “The two guys who are standing out right now are Devin Smith and Philly Brown. Philly Brown has come back from an injury and you’re seeing what I hoped to see in the spring when he was 80 percent. Devin has made a lot of improvement from spring to fall. They have had a good camp.
“Devin is a very talented player. He has speed and everything else you want. Is he game ready? Is he ready to be your go-to guy yet? Probably not. But he’s almost there. It’s my job to get him there. He has every talent and skill you could look for.”
Soph Evan Spencer missed some time early in the week with an injury but is back now, Smith said.
“Evan is fine,” Smith said. “He had a bone bruise. He’s back going. He’ll be a guy who hopefully comes on.”
One of the big performers in the spring was freshman Michael Thomas. He has missed some time in camp due to injury but Smith is optimistic he can contribute.
“Mike is a guy who works hard,” he said. “He never takes a day off and he is always going to put in extra work. He has been out a couple of days but we’ll get him back on the field. Hopefully he will be where you expect him to be after having a good spring for his first college practice.
“He’s in our plans. We have to get him back on the field. We’ll see what happens. We are a week-and-a-half away from game day. He is close.”
Smith is also excited to get soph Verlon Reed, coming off a knee injury, back into the fold.
“He’s doing well,” he said. “A lot of times, guys who have knee injuries favor it and they don’t run as well. Always in the back of their mind, they may not be confident about it. It seems like he is ahead of schedule. He has a ways to go, but hopefully he can be one of our guys.”
Smith also said that soph TY Williams has made great strides over the last week.
Hinton’s Guys Are Versatile
Hinton coaches the team’s fullbacks and tight ends, who have become almost interchangeable. With Stoneburner moving to wide receiver, soph Jeff Heuerman and redshirt freshman Nick Vannett are now 1-2 at tight end. Hinton said that move lifted their spirits.
“They see it,” Hinton said. “There is a light there. That is a beautiful thing. It’s my job to make sure they are game ready. They’re close. They’re not quite there yet, but we still have two weeks of practice to get there.
“With Heuerman and Vannett, they can both do all jobs well. The thing about Jeff and Nick is, really in reality, each of them probably does one part of their job better than the other. It’s a nice complement. The nice thing in our room is they are all selfless people. They’re not selfish if somebody else steps in. They are learning and correcting one another. They compete against each other for a job, but you don’t sense that in our room.”
Homan has been Zach Boren’s backup at fullback the last two years. He has dropped 15 pounds, going from 260 down to 245 to participate in the new offense.
“It’s been very tough,” he said. “We knew that going into it. Our strength coaches prepared us very well. We have complete faith in the coaching staff and what they have planned for us.
“They are creating an atmosphere where every play is a game play. You have to be ready on every play. Everyone is held accountable for that.”
Homan was asked about the new role of the fullbacks.
“We are still blocking,” he said. “We are trying to do whatever we can to help out the offense. The fullbacks and tight ends are all working extremely hard to do that.”
* Friday was the last two-a-day session of preseason camp. Following the Saturday practice, team members will move out of their fall camp residence and relocate to their dorms/apartments for the start of the fall semester. Fall classes start Wednesday, Aug. 22. Last year, fall classes under the old quarter system didn’t start until Sept. 21.
* Athletic director Gene Smith has confirmed that the Buckeyes will host Tulsa Sept. 10, 2016.
* Freshman offensive lineman Joey O’Connor underwent surgery on his left knee this past Monday and will be lost for the season. He will redshirt this year.
* Vrabel announced that senior defensive lineman Adam Bellamy has left the team for personal reasons. Vrabel said Bellamy could return when he gets those issues resolved.
“Adam is working through some personal family matters right now and when he gets that taken care of, we will welcome him back with open arms,” Vrabel said. “We miss him in our (meeting) room and when Adam gets those things taken care of, he’s going to be able to come back.”
* Fragel talked about how he is still battling freshman Taylor Decker for the opening at right tackle.
* The Black Stripe Brigade – the freshmen who have had the black stripes removed from their helmets – number just five so far: DB Devan Bogard, DE Noah Spence, DT Adolphus Washington, DT Tommy Schutt and OT Taylor Decker.
Vrabel said he challenged Washington to beat a first-team offensive lineman three straight times in drills and if he did he would lose his black stripe. Washington did just that and after practice Vrabel went to Meyer and asked that Washington have his stripe removed.